Emoji is more like a primitive language, tiny, emotive characters. It also represent the first language born of the digital world, designed to add emotional nuance and feelings to flat text, They make texts come alive. Emoji have been popular since they first appeared on Japanese mobile phones in the late ’90s, and in the past few years, they have become a hallmark of the way people communicate. They show up in press releases and corporate emails. Emoji aren’t just for people who say things like “lmao smh tbh fam.” Emoji are for everyone.
That puts a lot of pressure on the designs and standards for emoji. If emoji is a language for everyone in the digital world, then the emoji lexicon needs to constantly evolve across cultures, across the screen, across time. Today there are thousands of emoji depicting people in all their diversity, and thousands more to represent the things we interact with in our world: money, prayer beads, Apple Watches. In the future, as the world becomes increasingly digital and increasingly globalized, emoji will become important tools for translation and communication—a lingua franca for the digital age.
Things were a little messy at first because if you sent an emoji to someone using a different device, there was no guarantee they’d see it. Years ago, I had a phone that couldn’t receive emoji. I kept wondering why people were texting me empty boxes.
Thankfully, Google jumped in and started using code points, ensuring that across different devices, we’d all get the same emoji. These days, Unicode Consortium is responsible for code points, and pretty much the emoji game in general. These forces have brought us the emoji we know and love today.
The First Emoji
In the beginning, there were emoticons. Depending on how wonky you want to go, the earliest emoticon can be traced all the way back to 17th-century poetry—but, for the most part, emoticons came of age as chatroom conversations in the 1990s. These primitive gestures represented an important part of early netspeak: You could convey sarcasm by taking at the end of your message or share your ambivalence with the face.
Before emojis, there were emoticons, facial expressions made with punctuation marks. The first emoticons appeared in an issue of Puck magazine, all the way back in 1881. The magazine published four “faces”—conveying joy, melancholy, indifference, and astonishment—and called them “typographical art.”
So what about emojis, the little pictures that make texting so fun? Those were created in 1998 by Shigetaka Kurita, an engineer at the Japanese phone company, NTT Docomo. He was working on a way for customers to communicate through icons. The result was a set of 176 icons he called emoji. The name combines two Japanese words: “e” (picture) and “moji” (character). Kurita says that he drew inspiration for his emojis from the manga, Chinese characters, and international signs for bathrooms. Now, more than 1,800 emojis exist. The best part? We don’t need to tilt our heads sideways to understand them.
Article by: Busayo Tomoh